A Modern Step Debuts Exclusive Upscale Flooring Boutique In Austin’s Hyde Park

By-Appointment-Only Flooring Retailer Targets Discerning, Ecologically Conscious Buyers

Aaron Lindsey and Kacey Samiee.

A Modern Step announced on Tuesday, the grand opening of Austin’s first upscale, by-appointment-only flooring boutique and gallery-style showroom at 505 West 38th Street in the Capitol City’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood.

“All of our flooring choices are ecologically responsible and sustainable,” said Kacey Samiee, co-founder of A Modern Step. “Flooring is more than something to walk on; it is integral to the look and feel of the entire home or work space. We want our customers to fall in love with the concept that flooring can be a primary design element in their homes, as well as a tangible source of pride and joy.”

“Visits to our showroom are by appointment only,” said co-founder Aaron Lindsey. “That enables us to give each customer our complete attention, allowing ample time to explore their preferences and tastes, and guide them toward the particular flooring choices that will ignite their passions, enhance their environment and align with their moral aesthetic.”

Samiee and Lindsey conceived A Modern Step as a showroom experience unlike anything else in Central Texas. They regard flooring design as an art unto itself and pay meticulous attention to every aspect of the shopping adventure. A Modern Step carries only ecologically sensitive, first quality products that are forward-thinking in design. The one-of-a-kind, high-end boutique caters to both residential and commercial customers.

A Modern Step’s carefully curated, sophisticated collections of national and international flooring lines can be seen by appointment only in its 1,570 square-foot gallery-style showroom. Customers browse through a range of quintessential Scandinavian hardwoods, known for their beauty and exceptional stability, including offerings by Junckers, Karelia, Kahrs and WOODlife. Canadian and American lines include Appalachian Flooring, Kentwood/Metropolitan, Eco-Timber and Valencia Hardwoods. Samiee and Lindsey are especially proud to present the largest selection of reclaimed wood flooring from barns, vineyards and boats in the Austin area, including Vintage Timber and Reclaimed Design Works. Even their carpeting and rug options, featuring rare patterns and textures from America, South African and the United Kingdom, have minimal environmental impacts and reduce homeowners’ exposure to toxic chemicals. Hardwood choices range from $6 to $50 per square foot.

Both long-time Austinites, Samiee’s and Lindsey’s creative, artistic backgrounds led them to create the type of innovative retail experience A Modern Step presents. Samiee is trained in high-end architectural lighting design, has deep roots in acting and film, and teaches musical improv at a local theatre. Lindsey hails from the design side of technology, specifically human interaction design and user experience. He holds a patent defining a video-based interface that lets users chat with each other in social media.

Samiee and Lindsey created a showroom for A Modern Step that feels like a gallery, with a floor shopping experience somewhat akin to selecting a work of art. The customer service experience is high-touch and catering in a space that is little-known and tucked away, underscoring the progressive, uniquely Austin nature of the enterprise. The goal is to instill in clients the sense they are acquiring something special – a functional design element that properly conveys the aesthetic they want in their home or work space.

About A Modern Step

A Modern Step is an Austin-based upscale flooring boutique offering exclusive collections of carefully curated, sophisticated and sustainable flooring options for the discerning, ecologically conscious buyer. The store aims to elevate and refine the experience of customers shopping for superior quality flooring, offering options ranging from quintessential Scandinavian hardwoods to the largest selection of reclaimed woods in Central Texas. A Modern Step’s gallery-style showroom is located at 505 West 38th Street, Unit B. To reserve an appointment, call (512) 514-0738. For more information, visit http://www.AModernStep.com.

The 411 on HVAC Energy-Efficiency Ratings and Terms

Whether you’re looking to lower heating and cooling costs, or have a passion for protecting the environment, maximizing the energy efficiency of your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is a smart move. The more energy efficient your system, the less you’ll spend running it every year, and the smaller your home’s environmental footprint will be.

Efficiency ratings are intended to help you decide which products are best for your home, so it’s important to understand what all the related terms mean. HVAC systems manufacturer Luxaire, which has received ENERGY STAR’s highest rating for two components, offers some guidance on interpreting energy-efficiency ratings and terms.

ENERGY STAR

Launched in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the ENERGY STAR program is a voluntary labeling system designed to help consumers identify energy-efficient products. ENERGY STAR rates products in more than 70 categories. Over the past 20 years, ENERGY STAR-rated products have helped consumers save $362 billion on energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2.4 billion metric tons.

“Products that earn the ENERGY STAR rating are proven to operate using less energy. For example, in order to earn the highest rating, the ENERGY STAR Most Efficient designation, Luxaire’s Acclimate AC8B Split System Air Conditioner and Echelon HC8B Split System Heat Pump demonstrated performance levels of up to 20 Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and 12.5 Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) for cooling and heating performance, and 10 Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) for heat pumps,” says Ken Ely, product manager, Luxaire heating and cooling.

EnergyGuide label

Federal regulations require heating and cooling equipment to carry an EnergyGuide label that provides an estimate of how much energy the equipment will use. The label also compares the unit’s energy use to that of similar products, and gives an estimate of how much it will cost to operate the equipment in a year.

In addition to energy efficiency labeling, it’s important to know some measurement terms. Generally, for all these terms, a higher number equates to better efficiency.

SEER

SEER measures the energy efficiency of air conditioning systems and heat pumps. The ratio measures the amount of cooling provided by an air conditioner in comparison to the amount of energy the system uses — measured in watts per hour — over a hypothetical season. SEER can give you an idea of how energy efficient a unit will be under average conditions. However, a number of factors, such as how you use and maintain a unit, can influence energy efficiency, so it’s important to realize a unit might perform differently in your home.

EER

EER is very similar to SEER, except instead of measuring efficiency over a season, EER tells you how efficient an air conditioning unit might be when operating at a typical temperature.

HSPF

HSPF is meant to help you understand a heat pump’s energy efficiency over a season. It’s typically referenced alongside SEER to give a better picture of a system’s probable energy efficiency. The HSPF formula uses BTUs (British Thermal Units, a measurement of heat) to estimate the useful heat output divided by the total electricity (in watts per hour) the heat pump uses during a heating season.

AFUE

One more energy measurement to know is the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating. The AFUE measures average efficiency for furnaces, boilers and water heaters. Like SEER and EER, the measurement is for a theoretical heating season.

To learn more about energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, visit www.luxaire.com/greensavings and follow @LuxaireHVAC on Twitter. For more information on the ENERGY STAR program, visit www.energystar.gov. To learn about how to read the EnergyGuide label, visit www.energy.gov. (BPT)

Sea Oats Group Announces $1.3 Billion Expansion of Cinnamon Shore on Texas Gulf Coast

Phase II of Cinnamon Shore Will Quadruple the Vacation Community’s Size and Bring Distinctive New Home Designs, Amenities to Mustang Island

As originally published by Lynn Darden of The PR Boutique.

Cinnamon Shore Arial Image

Cinnamon Shore Arial Image

Sea Oats Group announced recently a $1.3 billion, 300-acre expansion of Cinnamon Shore, Mustang Island’s premier new urbanism vacation community, featuring distinctive new home designs and a wide array of appealing amenities.

“Cinnamon Shore North has been enormously successful, with over $200 million in sales, and is now 85 percent sold out,” said Jeff Lamkin, CEO of Sea Oats Group, developers of Cinnamon Shore. “The phase II expansion will take place over 15 to 20 years and will more than quadruple the size of the existing community.”

Over the past decade, Port Aransas-based Sea Oats Group has been one of the most successful developers of coastal properties in any market nationwide, including the Texas Gulf Coast, where the value of its beachfront portfolio is unequalled.

Nestled behind 300 feet of protective dunes and just minutes from Corpus Christi, Cinnamon Shore is the ultimate expression of coastal living. The vibrant, master-planned new urban development on Texas’ Coastal Bend combines elegant housing, work spaces, retail amenities, parks and recreational facilities in a highly livable, walkable seaside resort community. Nearby activities include links-style golfing, unique shopping, parasailing and charters, all effortlessly booked for residents and guests through Cinnamon Shores’ exclusive concierge services.

Cinnamon Shore Arial Image

Cinnamon Shore Arial Image

Sea Oats Group began developing the 63-acre Cinnamon Shore North, phase I of its incomparable Texas Gulf Coast vacation community, in 2007. Its $275 million buildout includes home sales on 200 lots, 75 of which are multi-family residences, with a median price point of $1 million. Single-family homes start at around $636,000 and beachfront homes are priced from about $2.5 million.

The more than 250-acre phase II expansion will encompass Cinnamon Shore South, an $800 million investment, and Cinnamon Shore Bay Shore, projected to be a $500 million buildout. Lamkin said Sea Oats Group envisions four primary pillars of distinction for phase II: (1) home craftsmanship and a lifestyle unrivaled on the Gulf Coast; (2) a dining district with dozens of restaurants to please any palate or mood; (3) enticing destination retail; and (4) a health and wellness center.

Phase II will include a 3,300-foot wide beachfront, maintained daily – almost three times the size of the beach at Cinnamon Shore North. Eventually, the development will lie on both sides of State Highway 361, about a mile south of Cinnamon Shore North, with a golf cart bridge enabling residents to easily access amenities on both sides of the highway. Plans include multiple swimming pools and lakes to provide refuge and enhance the landscape on both sides of the roadway. A key feature of phase II – an approximately 10-acre lake, one of the largest on the Texas Gulf Coast – will be encircled by a mile-long boardwalk. The development will also feature honeymoon cottages, a spa, town centers for retail within each phase and a boutique hotel opening in 2018. Site work is already underway, and Sea Oats Group expects to begin building homes on the property in mid- to late-2018.

“We are proud of the community we have created with phase I of Cinnamon Shore and gratified by how well it has been received,” said Lamkin. “We plan to build on what has been a very successful model with this major phase II expansion. Full details, including the master plan for phase II, will be released later this year.”

About Cinnamon Shore

Cinnamon Shore is a pedestrian-friendly planned community nestled behind the protective dunes on Mustang Island along the Texas Gulf Coast. It is the first new urbanism development for Sea Oats Group, which is fulfilling its vision of a traditional seaside village with a wide array of amenities and recreational facilities intertwined with beach cottages, luxury villas and vibrant town centers. Every detail of Cinnamon Shore is designed to embrace the natural ambience of Mustang Island and the slow-paced charm of a walking neighborhood. For more information, visit http://www.CinnamonShore.com, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@CinnamonShore).

About Sea Oats Group

Port Aransas-based Sea Oats Group is one of the most successful developers of coastal properties in any market nationwide, including the Texas Gulf Coast, where the value of its beachfront portfolio is unequalled. The firm is dedicated to creating traditional neighborhood developments that provide residents with the highest possible quality of life, while preserving the integrity of the resort landscapes they occupy. By combining living spaces with retail areas in a walkable, connected plan, Sea Oats Group weaves together beautiful places to live, work and play. For more information, visit www.SeaOatsGroup.com.

Father’s Day Gifts for the Man Who Loves to Cook

While the typical Father’s Day gifts generally get the job done – think golf clubs, fishing tackle or grilling equipment – don’t forget about the dad who enjoys spending time making magic in the kitchen.

Give him the tools he needs to succeed, whether baking for the big game, preparing a meal for the family, trying out a new recipe or simply seeking to master the perfect cup of coffee. Reaching one’s fullest potential in the kitchen requires the right equipment, so put the best gear in his hands (or on his counter) and up his culinary experience with these ideas from KitchenAid.

From baking equipment to knife sets to attachments that turn his favorite countertop appliance into a versatile powerhouse, give your food-savvy dad just what he needs to up his kitchen game. For more Father’s Day gift inspiration, visit kitchenaid.com.

Sleek and Elegant

Dad deserves tools as bold and innovative as his culinary creations. Featuring a cast iron-like finish and premium materials, including die-cast zinc, satin and black chrome, the limited edition Artisan® Black Tie Stand Mixer from KitchenAid is a timeless collector’s item that will never go out of style. With 10 speeds, a tilt-head design and more than a dozen optional hub-powered and bowl attachments, this one-of-a-kind stand mixer is sure to take his culinary prowess to a whole new level.

Adaptable Attachments

For many dads, summer is synonymous with outdoor grilling and barbecues. Help dad transform his stand mixer into a multi-purpose tool with a Food Grinder attachment, a perfect accompaniment for everything from grinding raw meat for hamburgers to preparing homemade salsa. Pair it with a Sausage Stuffer Kit to make breakfast sausages, brats and more.

A Cool Refreshment

For those warm summer days, a tall glass of custom cold brew is the perfect alternative to hot coffee. Upgrade dad’s daily coffee routine with this streamlined and versatile Cold Brew Coffee Maker, featuring a built-in tap that dispenses cold brew straight from the refrigerator. Perfect for home, the office or a day at the park, the portable handle and stainless steel tap allow him to enjoy his cold beverage of choice anywhere he goes.

Personal Pasta

When pasta night comes around and dad is looking to put his personal touch on dinner, give him the ability to make his own authentic, fresh pasta from scratch with the 3-Piece Pasta Roller and Cutter Attachment Set powered by the KitchenAid® Stand Mixer. The high-quality stainless steel set includes a pasta roller, spaghetti cutter and fettuccine cutter; just what dad needs to bring something fresh and new to the table.

Slice and Dice

Since knives are used more than nearly any other kitchen utensil, make sure dad has a cutlery set he can count on, like Professional Series Cutlery from KitchenAid. The different options of cutlery sets can make his chopping, peeling, paring, filleting, cutting and sharpening easy and graceful. Available for purchase as a set or individually, a customizable set is within dad’s reach.

Rise and Grind

If dad appreciates precision, then a Burr Grinder is a great way to give him complete customization of his morning coffee. He’ll be able to grind coffee beans just the way he prefers with 15 grind levels for French press, pour-over, drip coffee, espresso and anything in-between. The glass bean hopper holds up to 7 ounces of grinds, plus the stainless steel cutting burrs offer both durability and powerful performance. (Family Features)

 

Smaller Metros Take Action to Draw Millennials Fleeing Bigger Urban Areas

Are millennials getting ready to leave big cities in droves? Some experts in demographics, economics and real estate have predicted the millennial exodus from huge urban areas has already begun. If true, the question remains: where will they go?

Some may head to the suburbs, like their parents and grandparents did before them, but many will look for a different lifestyle, one that combines the advantages of suburban living with the best features of city life. Some smaller metro areas, like Wausau, Wisconsin, are banking they have the blend of economic opportunity, urban elements, affordability and lifestyle that will attract migrating millennials.

The Draw

“Economy has always been a factor in generational migrations, and while the nature of work has changed, economic opportunity is still key to where people want to live,” says Christian Schock, director of planning, community and economic development for the City of Wausau. “Everyone wants to find a place with the winning formula of urban activities, affordability and lifestyle. Businesses want to put down roots in that environment, too, knowing it will draw a bigger pool of skilled workers.”

In recent years, the City of Wausau has made concerted efforts to position itself with both big city amenities and small town assets. By many accounts, the efforts are paying off. In a 2016 Pew Research Trust analysis of income equality nationwide, Wausau ranked first in the nation, with the middle class constituting 67 percent of the city’s total population. Wausau also ranked highest in Wisconsin and eighth nationally on Area Development magazine’s list of hot spots for new and expanding businesses.

The Formula

Small to mid-size metro areas that want to attract millennials, as well as businesses and investors, need to address key areas, including:

* Urbanity

In addition to the recreational and entertainment amenities often highlighted when discussing millennials, many mid-sized metros lack the diversity of housing types that can be found in a larger city which millennials might be accustomed to.

One strategy Wausau has focused on specifically is diversifying housing product. The City funded local architects to design an urban rowhouse — a housing style which did not previously exist. For over a decade, leaders proactively assembled parcels for new riverfront apartments, and continually worked with developers to seek tax credits which could be applied to renovating historic properties into unique multifamily offerings.

* Affordability

Rising real estate costs are among the factors that kept many millennials living in cities longer than they might have liked, experts say. Mid-sized metros have an edge in making home buying more affordable for millennials — and homebuyers of all generations.

Recognized as a leader in economic development homesteading, Wausau’s Live It Up program is a partnership between local employers and the city to provide employees with a no-interest down payment assistance loan for the purchase of a home. In the last two years, the program has allocated more than $200,000 in no-interest loans to local employees.

* Place

Millennials who came of age in urban environments have a strong affinity for multifunctional spaces, and are drawn to communities that are a walkable mix of business, retail, industry and residential. While the specific physical space needs may change, their own strong sense of identity makes them inclined to seek a region that has its own established sense of self.

Wausau has leveraged more than $100 million in new downtown development over the past decade and currently has another $100 million under construction, emphasizing the city’s identity as a vibrant, growing core. Wausau’s Riverlife Village project is reclaiming more than 16 acres of urban waterfront along the Wisconsin River to house a new park, river wharf, mixed-use office space, biking paths, apartments and a family entertainment center.

Perhaps the greatest testament to a mid-sized metro’s success is the recommitment of historic businesses to local growth. Wausau Insurance was an early innovator in workers’ compensation insurance, which evolved out of the necessity for local lumber mills to share the risk of worker rehabilitation. Now part of Liberty Mutual, the company recently announced a $50 million regional facility expansion. Wausau Window and Wall Systems and Linetec, both in the building materials industry, also trace their roots to the lumber industry, and have completed over $60 million worth of expansion and doubled the size of their workforce within the past five years, providing a strong foundation for continued economic development.

“Any resident, millennial or not, is looking for ways to connect with their community. Both businesses and residents are discovering that smaller cities can even be more responsive and creative than larger metros,” says Robert Mielke, mayor of Wausau.

To learn more about how the City of Wausau is attracting residents from big cities, visit www.wausome.org. (BPT)

Simple Upgrades and Habit Changes Can Yield Big Water Savings in Bathrooms

Saving water in the bathroom is as simple as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or shaving. Changing out the sink faucet for a high-performance model using only 1.2 gallons of water per minute is another, with long-term benefits that save energy and money.

Saving water in the bathroom is as simple as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or shaving. Changing out the sink faucet for a high-performance model using only 1.2 gallons of water per minute is another, with long-term benefits that save energy and money.

Researchers predict that rising water prices could mean within five years a third of American households will not be able to pay their water bills, despite the replenishment of water reserves around the country.

What’s more, the National Weather Service warns that drought could increase or reoccur if the country experiences a period of sustained heat and dryness.

Fortunately, there are many ways for you to reduce the amount of water your home uses each year. One of the best places to start conserving water is in the bathroom, where toilet flushing, long showers and deep soak baths account for the largest portion of a home’s water consumption, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Here are simple ways you can significantly reduce your home’s water consumption, lower your water bill and do something good for the environment:

Ditch water-guzzling fixtures

Water efficiency in the bathroom is highlighted with the American Standard Fluent collection that includes a 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) sink faucet flow rate, and 2.0 gpm for the showerhead. This suite is complemented with a high-efficiency CadetPRO toilet that uses only 1.28 gallons of water per flush.

Water efficiency in the bathroom is highlighted with the American Standard Fluent collection that includes a 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) sink faucet flow rate, and 2.0 gpm for the showerhead. This suite is complemented with a high-efficiency CadetPRO toilet that uses only 1.28 gallons of water per flush.

Flushing the toilet accounts for about 30 percent of a home’s annual water consumption, making it the largest user of water in the home, according to the U.S. EPA. Prior to 1994, most toilets used 3.5 or more gallons of water per flush (gpf). Current federal guidelines require that toilets use no more than 1.6 gpf, but you can do even better.

Toilets: Replace dated, older toilets with ultra-high-efficiency models like the American Standard H2Optimum ultra-high efficiency toilet, which uses an average of 1.1 gpf — that’s 31 percent less than federal mandates. Exclusive PowerWash siphon-jet bowl cleaning technology drives this water-saving toilet to remove every trace of paper and waste, while its EverClean antimicrobial finish helps it stay cleaner, longer.

Faucets: Inefficient and leaky bathroom faucets also waste thousands of gallons of water each year. WaterSense-labeled faucets use a maximum of 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) and as little as 1.2 gpm, decreasing water use by 30 percent or more. The Fluent collection of high-efficiency bathroom faucets uses leading-edge technology to reduce water consumption, while producing a strong flow rate, all with high-style design to coordinate with various bathroom decors.

Showerheads: A significant source of water usage in a home can be attributed to showerheads, pouring up to 40 gallons per day down the drain for an average family, according to the EPA. Since showers account for 17 percent of a home’s water use, replacing an older, less efficient showerhead with a WaterSense-certified one can curb waste in the shower. An example is the Hydrofocus 6-function showerhead that uses only 2 gallons of water per minute, while delivering a concentrated and invigorating spray. Its innovative pressure-compensating operation features a plentiful water flow across all spray patterns for a customized showering experience that caters to your family’s personal preferences.

Make easy habit changes

Replacing inefficient fixtures is an investment that will pay off over time. However, there are simple habit changes that are free and will produce results right away. Your family can easily reduce water use in the bathroom by:

  • Turning off the water when brushing their teeth. Running the tap while brushing can waste as much as 3,000 gallons per year, the EPA says.
  • Taking showers instead of baths. It takes an average of 36 gallons to fill the bathtub. Plus, if you take baths less often, when you do indulge in one it will feel like a treat.
  • Taking shorter showers. The longer the shower runs, the more water goes down the drain. Never turn on the shower and walk away to do other things while the water warms. If you get delayed or distracted, the water could run for a long time before you actually step into the shower.
  • Washing hands in cold water with soap, rather than letting the water run until it gets hot.
  • Shaving at the sink, rather than in the shower. Shaving in the shower extends your shower time, unnecessarily consuming more water. Just don’t forget to turn off the water while shaving at the bathroom sink.

Taking steps to reduce bathroom water usage can help save you money in the short term and benefit the environment in the long run. These changes are simple to implement, with rewarding results to both your wallet and our planet Earth. (BPT)

Catch a Day on the Water with Dad This Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, add a little adventure and gift Dad a day he will remember by surprising him with a day of fishing. There’s nothing like getting in a boat with loved ones and heading out on the water to sink a line and enjoy some of the finer things in life together — like fishing, snacking and discovering a few unexpected treasures along the way. 

The Invite

Whether it’ll be just the two of you or the entire family on this excursion, start the day by presenting him with a Father’s Day card attached to a tackle box with the message that you’ll be taking him fishing. Add a new baseball cap emblazoned with his favorite team’s logo to shield his head from the sun and wind. 

Piping Hot Coffee

When you get in the car, make sure the cup holder has a new tumbler full of Dad’s favorite coffee, ready for him to sip on the way to the water. Some of today’s insulated bottles can hold the heat, keeping the coffee piping hot for up to 24 hours so you can rig up this treat hours and hours ahead of time. Check labels to see how long various containers keep drinks hot or cold, just to make sure. 

Fishing Gear

As soon as you’re on the boat and it’s time to open the tackle box, have some new fishing gear pre-packed inside, ready for him to discover. An ultra-versatile choice that will have him reeling in fish all day is the new Storm 360GT Searchbait, which uses a natural swimming action that fish just can’t refuse. While you’re at it, tuck in a spool of Sufix 832 Advanced Superline to ensure a good day’s catch. The strongest, most durable line on the market is a great gift that will help Dad avoid breakoffs. 

Snack Time

As the day goes on, keep Dad fueled with plenty of snacks to charge forward through the day — even if that means waiting for the next big fish to bite. Grab something simple and manly, like protein-packed Matador Jerky, to keep him fueled. Always good to go with no refrigeration needed, it’s available in several flavors to tempt his taste buds, from Original to Teriyaki to Peppered. Find them wherever chips are sold, in both individual 3-ounce packs and four-count variety packs. Be sure to bring along a cooler filled with ice-cold beverages to put out the fire and quench his thirst. 

Shore-Side Supper

After a great day on the water with Dad, top it off with a shore-side grilled supper featuring the entree of all entrees, fresh-caught fish. Toss some corn on the cob or veggies on the grill for sides and bring along something indulgent for dessert. A pre-made cake or homemade cookies can provide an easy and satisfying cap to a fun-filled day. However, the present he’ll likely remember most on this Father’s Day is the time you’ve spent enjoying it together. (BPT)

Here’s How to Tap Into Your Home’s Not-So-Hidden Potential

Your most valuable asset is around you all the time. It’s above you, it’s below you and in many cases you don’t realize how much it can do for you.

According to the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., “Americans have a staggering amount of untapped equity in their homes.” How much? Altogether, $11,030,000,000,000. That’s 11 trillion, 30 billion dollars.

Yet despite this huge wealth possessed by homeowners, using it isn’t as simple as writing a check. You have to capitalize on your home’s equity.

What Is Home Equity?

Your home’s equity represents the difference between its current market value and the money that you owe on it.

Let’s say, for example, your home has a market value of $200,000, you made a down payment of $40,000 and you took out a $160,000 mortgage. At that point your equity is $40,000. You can always calculate this number by taking your home’s initial price and subtracting the amount you still owe.

Now, let’s say 10 years later you have paid off $60,000 of your $160,000 mortgage. At this point you still owe $100,000 on your home’s initial price of $200,000 so your equity is $100,000, assuming the home’s value has remained the same.

A little at a time

Each month when you make a mortgage payment, some of your money goes toward interest, some goes toward real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance (if the lender is collecting for these and making the payments on your behalf), and some goes toward paying off the mortgage itself. This last portion grows your equity because it subtracts from the amount you still owe.

Your home equity can also grow if your home increases in value because the amount you still owe has not changed. A rise in value may be due to increased home prices in your area and/or improvements you make to the home.

Market home prices may rise and fall from one year to the next but given enough time, most real estate tends to increase in value. For example, current economic forecasts from CoreLogic project a 4.8 percent increase in home prices year over year in 2017.

Gaining access to your equity

Now that you understand what equity is and how much equity you have, your next question may be “How do I use it?”

Your first step is to contact a knowledgeable mortgage professional. They will be able to answer your questions as well as show you loans that use your home as collateral. You’ll want to do your research to determine which type of loan is best for you. You should also take the time to compare interest rates, offers and loan features.

And if you are age 62 or older, you are also eligible for additional home equity options such as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), which is an FHA-insured Reverse Mortgage loan. This loan may be taken as a lump sum, a line of credit, through fixed monthly payments or a combination and the loan can never be frozen or reduced.

The equity in your home empowers you with several financing options and the specifics of each loan may vary from lender to lender, so ask questions and do your own research. Once you understand all your options you’ll be able to determine which loan offering allows you to make the most of your most valuable asset.

To learn about HECM Reverse Mortgage loans and other special home-equity options available to homeowners 62 and older, visit www.reversemortgage.org/HomeEquity. (BPT)

5 Steps That Can Improve Your Credit Score in 100 Days or Less

Low interest rates, a strong economy and the turn of the seasons are all causing the real estate market to heat up. More homes on the market bring more competition to buy the inventory that is out there. And one way to stand apart from other buyers who are vying for their dream home is to take steps to improve your credit score now.

“Preparing your finances is a must before the busy real estate season,” says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of credit score model developer VantageScore Solutions. “Knowing your credit scores and making improvements is essential to getting the best loan at the best rates. This also makes you a more attractive home buyer, especially in a competitive market.”

With limited time, you may think there’s nothing you can do to improve your score. Burns says that’s an incorrect assumption. While you can’t make dramatic jumps in just a couple months, there are several steps you can take that may influence your score to increase enough to get you prequalified for the loan you want.

Keep in mind, lenders will pull your scores from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), so it’s wise to check your credit report from each of them. You can do so for free once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. For best results, monitor at least one credit score from each of the bureaus. You also can check your credit score for free through a large number of online services, such as CreditKarma.com, NerdWallet.com or Credit.com. Other sites offering free VantageScore credit scores can be found at VantageScore.com/free.

Once you have your reports in hand, you can take steps that may have a positive impact on your scores.

Step 1: Check for errors

A credit report gives a comprehensive list of your lines of credit and payment history. The first step is to review your credit report for errors and take steps to make corrections, including past and present names, loan amounts and credit cards in your name.

When checking your credit score, bear in mind that some differences in credit scores across bureaus is normal. But if one of the three credit scores is an extreme outlier, it could be worth double-checking your credit report from that bureau to make sure it doesn’t reflect any questionable or erroneous activity.

Step 2: Don’t miss a payment

Creditors are interested in seeing how you manage credit, and the consistency of behavior counts. You should always pay at least the minimum amount due on bills on time every month. An easy way to ensure you don’t miss a payment is to sign up for automatic bill pay when available.

Step 3: Lower credit utilization levels

Credit utilization is the ratio of a credit card balance to the credit limit. If your balance is $5,000 and your credit limit is $10,000, then your credit utilization for that credit card is 50 percent. In general, a good credit utilization is less than 30 percent, so if you have a higher ratio, consider using your tax refund to pay down this debt.

Step 4: Don’t close old credit cards

If you have a credit card that is no longer used but was previously paid off on time each month, don’t close the account. Not only is this good for your credit utilization ratio, but it also is another indicator you’re a responsible candidate for a loan.

Step 5: Don’t apply for new credit

Avoid applying for any new credit, such as an auto loan or a new credit card account, between now and the time you will close on a home purchase. Lenders considering your loan application request your credit score from one or more credit bureaus. And these lender “inquiries” are recorded with one or more of the three national credit bureaus, which may lower your credit score by 10 to 20 points. The score decreases typically only last a few months, as long as you continue to make payments on time. But unless they’re absolutely necessary, try to avoid additional inquiries until after you’ve secured your mortgage.

If you follow these five steps, you may see an increase in your score within a few months so you can get a loan and be an attractive buyer when it comes time to put in a bid for your dream home.

Keep in mind, the more you can put toward the down payment, the more instant equity you’ll have, the lower your monthly payment will be, and the better your chances are of not needing private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment.

Plus, if you’re able to put down more than a lender requires, a mortgage company may be willing to give you a pass on other issues on your application, such as a less-than-stellar credit score. (BPT)

Easy Breezy: 5 Ways to Make Summer Lawn Care Projects Easier

Summer is here and your lawn is a source of pride. However, it can also be a source of hard work, sweat and even frustration. So ask yourself this question: Would you be interested in maintaining your yard’s beauty with fewer headaches?

If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck, because this article is all about helping you find ways to maintain a beautiful lawn without all the unnecessary effort. Apply these five tips today and you’ll have more time to enjoy your well-cared-for yard.

  • Be smart about seeding. The dog days of summer are not the ideal time to reseed your lawn, so don’t waste the effort. Seed growth is more successful during cooler months, so if you didn’t seed in the early spring, wait until later in the season before doing so. You’ll get the same results without wasting the effort on an inefficient seeding.
  • The perfect cut. Your lawn is the centerpiece of your yard, and nothing improves its overall appearance like the perfect cut, especially when that cut comes easy. Greenworks 60-Volt Mower is a lithium-ion battery-powered mower that eliminates the need to mix and pour gas, letting you put that time back into making your lawn look great. Finding the perfect cutting height is easy with its seven different blade positions, while Patented Smart Cut Technology maximizes run-time by keeping the blade speed at an optimal level based on the thickness of the turf.
  • Water smart. Just as with seeding, successfully watering your lawn is all about timing. And, like seeding, dragging a sprinkler around your yard during the peak hours of the day will result in the water you expend being burned off before it does any good. To make the most of your watering sessions, water your lawn at dawn or dusk when temperatures are cooler. This increases the possibility that the water will stick around long enough for the grass to absorb it.
  • Trimming made easy. A well-cut lawn is perfectly complemented by manicured bushes and shrubs, and tackling these tasks with the Greenworks 60-Volt Cordless String Trimmer and Hedge Trimmer is easy. Each tool utilizes push button start technology, eliminating the need for pull cords, while the battery-powered brushless motor offers an environmentally friendly, gas-alternative, and neither lacks for power or options. Tackle large projects with the string trimmer’s 16-inch cut path or use the hedge trimmer’s lightweight, rotating handle to reach every angle and you’ll get the perfect trim in no time.
  • Add mulch to control weeds. The most beautiful planting beds lose their luster if their base is crowded with weeds. To eliminate this problem — and to save on the wear and tear of pulling the weeds yourself — add a 4-inch layer of mulch to the top of your beds. This mulch blocks out the sun, making it hard for weeds to grow. It also reduces your need to water these beds by slowing water’s evaporation rate.

Summer is here, and while your lawn care is ongoing, there’s still plenty of time to make those chores more efficient to benefit yourself and your lawn. To learn more about the lawn care tools available from Greenworks, visit www.greenworkstools.com. (BPT)